Sunday, February 6, 2011

To Critique or Not to Critique?

One of my most memorable experiences with my local chapter (MORWA) was the Saturday critique group, that would meet once a month directly after the chapter meeting. Normally, the critique group met on Tuesday nights; however, being I was already two hours away, Tuesday night meetings weren’t exactly feasible for me. I had some experience with online groups—not as cool as ours, of course, but larger writing groups where you’d write a chapter and you’d have to critique three, and it never worked out like it was supposed to. You were either critiquing much more than you were getting feedback, or you were getting flamed in public forums because hey, it’s the internet and manners seem to be optional.

Anyway, as you see, the online groups weren’t the best option. So being I was part of this face-to-face chapter, I thought I would take advantage of the face-to-face critiquing. I figured at the very least it would be a lot more difficult to flame me to my face. As you might imagine, this wasn’t the first time I’ve ever been wrong.

This is not to say the whole critique group was a pack of wolves. They weren’t. Most of the ones that were in the Saturday group I’ve known to go on and be published and have wonderful books; and those who became published I remember as being professional and couching their comments in non-flaming tones.

And then there was this one member.

To say she did not care for my attempts at writing would be an understatement along the realms of saying that the Bo’sun does not care for most green vegetables…or vegetables at all. I had just started the manuscript—an incarnation of Girl on a Grecian Urn—and the group was reading the extremely rough chapters I had available. Where the professional members had mentioned “concern” at me having a hero who was married as not being the most marketable idea they had ever read, they did say I had an engaging voice and my writing itself was readable. They might have gone on so far as to say I was funny, but I can’t quite remember if they were that kind. Most of the critique group did not have an appreciation for sarcasm as I did. Humor as you well know is the in the laugh of the chortler.

So when it came time for the George W. member to make her opinions known about my writing, she took a deep breath and let it fly. She questioned my writing, my humor, my idea of a hero, my integrity (being I’d think adultery would be romantic in any sense), and my being in this chapter at all since I clearly didn’t want to write anything that smacked of romance fiction. She said if this had been a published book—she snorted here—she would have thrown it away at chapter three, upon discovering the guy was married, and never read anything by me again. She said my story was the ultimate wall banger.

I didn’t exactly continue going to this critique group. I mean, this was the story I was married to at the time and I wasn’t exactly in the mood to switch to something else. And besides if this group didn’t like my married guy story, what would they say about Lucifer? I began to think this critique group might not be the best for me.

This is not to say that I was looking for a group that would read my pages, sing the praises of it incessantly for an hour, and insist that I didn’t need to change a word or punctuation mark. Really that is not what I was looking for. I was looking a group of people who would read my work and not make the comment that they wished they had eye bleach so they could erase it from their brain.

What it did teach me is that not everything you’re going to critique is going to be something you’d read in real life. I know this because I read George W.’s critique chapters and they all revolved around a sci-fi world that had a Galadriel with Gandulf powers. Very unique. [insert sarcasm here] You never see that in sci-fi books: a beautiful sorceress running the show. I remember thinking within the first ten pages, “I wonder when the bitch is going to die?” Because you know she’s gonna. It’s the rule. I didn’t say it; I just thought it. George W. was also running into some issues with the group since her main character was sleeping with a man who turns out not to be the hero. Most of the group maintained she could not have her heroine sleeping around; George W. was argumentative.

This also taught me: context. It’s hard to run a critique group and have everyone read one chapter of your work and give an opinion on it that has true use to your work as a whole. I’m not sure what George W. did, but I abandoned my project for quite some time. I mean, they were right, weren’t they? Who would ever read a “romance” with a married guy as a central character?

So this is a long-winded way of me saying: beware of the critique group. Especially any group over five. It gets unwieldy; and the likes and dislikes dynamics within the group are too varied. Ordering a pizza and agreeing on a movie to watch with five people is near impossible; getting useful information about your manuscript even more so. Find your critique partner, and maybe a spare. Thank them regularly; do not take them for granted. (Thank you, Bo’sun.)

So even though my experience wasn’t the fairy tale ending I hoped, I did learn a lot. Mainly that no matter how vehemently you might feel about someone’s work, there is something positive that can be said about it—and you should lead with it. Secondly, you should not make the critique personal. Third, while it is likely you will need to say something that the writer is likely to not want to hear, there is no reason to suddenly launch into a witch-burning. Anything can be re-written; and as is shown everyday, anything can be published—so before you tell someone else that you think their work is complete crap, you should definitely keep that in mind.

As you might surmise, I prefer people who critique my work to lead what they liked about it, even if they only liked my margins. Then they are free to start listing the things that didn’t work for them, so long as they give viable reasons for why they didn’t like something—not the extremely personal kind of reasons like “I hate your heroine because she drinks Pepsi and I only drink Coke.” Really? Don’t be personal; be analytical.

Are you for critique groups or do you prefer critique partners? Why or why not? Do you avoid critiquers altogether (a la J.K. Rowling)? Do you have any nightmare critique experiences or really good ones?


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

What a TIMELY post, Captain! This very night, I'm going to a first meeting of what might (or might not) turn out to be a new critique group for me. IF this group gels, there will be 4 regular members and 1 other member who lives a long distance and will not attend regularly. I'll let you know how it all works out, of if it doesn't.

AH critique partners... Aunty truly has had the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Some at the same time... Finding a good match can be a daunting task, but I still feel that a good CP is the most valuable thing you'll have in your writing career!

Unfortunately, as you move along your career path, you sometimes need to part ways with CPs and groups. Sometimes, as in your case with George W. it is best to RUN, not walk away.

One of my horror stories goes like this: I had what I THOUGHT was a wonderful CP -- UNTIL she sold. After that, she suddenly never had time to look at any of my stuff. Of course, I was still expected to give her line by line crits and brainstorm at the drop of a hat because "she had deadlines!" while I was an unpubbed nobody. Funny thing though, she could drop everything and give a couple of her published friends (whom she met AFTER she sold)a critique whenever they needed it. After all "they had deadlines!"

I'm sorry to say, I let this situation go on waay too long. But somewhere around her 4th book, when I realized that she hadn't read a single line of my latest WIP (my 3rd since she sold) and only about 4 chapters of my previous, I suddenly became "too busy" to critique or brainstorm with her. And let me tell you, she did everything short of standing on her head to get me to continue -- calling and giving me endless descriptions of her plot, characters, etc. But I never gave her any more feedback, and interestingly, she hasn't sold a book in 3 years... :-P

BTW, I ALWAYS strive to give both negatives and positives in my critiques. I feel it is equally important to know what you are doing RIGHT as what you are doing WRONG.

Team PEPSI all the way!

Mary Danielson said...

Excellent post, Hellion. Also, something I really don't think we hear enough about. It's always struck me that the online writing world is very critique-focused. Every other suggestion you read is Get Thee To A Critique Group!

Which, well, sucks.

Seriously, every time I read it, I want to throw things. Sharp, pointy, heavy things. Because, as with all advice out there, it's not for everybody. Some of us have really great experiences with critique groups, whereas some of us run screaming from them in terror. Both options are legit and should be treated so. Though, I think if someone does go the critique group route, the most important thing in deciding on a group is trust. If they're not people you can trust not to be sadistic, a la Ms. George W., then it's not the right group. End of story. Getting critiqued is already a painful thing, no matter who's doing it, so you better damn well like your group and trust their judgment.

All that being said though, I'm totally one of those anti-critique people. Too many voices commenting on my manuscript and I lose track of the voice that counts the most - my own. If I let someone read my work, especially before I'm done with it, I have to give explicit instructions re: what I want feedback on. Most of the time, it's "Is the voice okay?" or simply "Do you like it?" If there's more detail than that, I get overwhelmed and start over-thinking every word.

True story: I won a writing contest a few months ago, judged by a NYT bestselling author - whom I absolutely adore - and one of the prizes was a critique of our entry from her. The critique came in the mail in Decemeber, when I promptly tore the package open, skimmed the comments, and shoved it in a drawer. It's *still* in that drawer. In the rare instances I request critiques, it takes me awhile to get over the "OMG, I'm going to die if they say something bad!" part. Once I internalize it and calm down, I can woman-up and read the whole thing, but not until then. I'm still not calm about the author one, even though she did have awesome things to say, along with her suggestions. Yes, I am a wimp. Which is why I could never go through what you did!

Part of my anti-critique thing is that having people I know read my work is more stressful than any stranger (unless they're NYT bestsellers, obviously). Even my best friend and CP hasn't read the entire MS that's out to agents right now, because I'm more stressed about Steph reading it than any agent. Even with an offer of rep on the table, I haven't broken down and sent it to her. She may not end up reading the whole thing, until it's on the shelves. (Fingers crossed that it ever gets there, of course.)

Wow. So I was long-winded about this. Apologies for the rambling, pirates! This is just an excellent and timely post, Hellion. Five stars.

Also? I'm sending evil schadenfreude-y vibes to Ms. George W. - what a b*tchface. Enough said.

Quantum said...

Very interesting.

I would guess that Aunty Cindy may have touched the root of the problem.

If all of the 'partners' are unpublished wannabe authors then there is likely to be a lot of suppressed anger floating around looking for a focal point.

If you need serious advice then get it from someone who can 'show you' or from someone who 'loves you'

As Eliza tells Freddy in My Fair Lady:

Words! Words! I'm so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?
Don't talk of stars Burning above; If you're in love,
Show me! Tell me no dreams
Filled with desire. If you're on fire,
Show me! Here we are together in the middle of the night!
Don't talk of spring! Just hold me tight!

I love your writing Helli. 8)

Bosun said...

First off, you're welcome. (Though most of my feedback is as simple as "You're briliant!" So I'm not sure I'm really helping. LOL!)

Second off, I was fortunate to receive a crit from AC many moons ago and she was the most gracious person ever. She managed to point out my weak areas (and they were many!) without making me feel bad or even cringe. There were simple things where I thought, "Why didn't I see that?!" and there were other areas I never would have found on my own.

And all this was AFTER she'd pubbed. LOL! I will forever be grateful for her input.

Bosun said...

Now, this is a great blog. And I'm trying not to worry that it's to make me feel better since you're currently reading my entire book. *deep breath* No, this isn't aimed at me. Of course not.

I'm gonna need a drink.

Mary - I'm with you on this. I do send stuff to Hellie from time to time, but it's mostly just a "Look how funny I am here!!" kind of thing. I couldn't do the traditional CP stuff that Hal and Marn have made an artform of. I see no purpose in sending rough draft stuff to anyone when I know it's a rough draft. WHY would I expect someone else to tell me all the things I already know?

But, brainstorming is awesome. With the right person. Brainstorming with strangers, extremely pointless. Brainstorming with someone who knows me and my work, priceless.

Bosun said...

Q - I love that movie and that song. What a perfect bit to remind us writers we must SHOW the reader the story.

Donna said...

Great post, Hellion.

I've always been a bit leery of critique GROUPS. It seems you'll get a bazillion different reactions, which may make it impossible to determine what is actually useful.

Also, I've seen it homogenize a writer's work, usually because ALL of the advice is incorporated, to the point that it's become a "book by committee".

Hellion said...

Whew! First, I want to say I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get here this morning. I've been home from work for a week and 1) I'm having trouble staying awake due to flipping my awake schedule completely backwards; and 2) I have a stack of crap to go over this morning.

Second, I want to thank everyone for reading my long ass post. It's like the length of Gone With the Wind--so I appreciate everyone who has not only read it but taken the time to respond! Now let me read the comments!

Hellion said...

Aunt Cindy! This is a TIMELY post--how weird is that? Actually what's weirder is that I had a different post about "scent" I was going to do but in the end, I decided, "Nah, I want to talk about critiquing!" *LOL*

And I think it's hilarious you're looking into a CG of FOUR people or sometimes five. That's funny. *LOL* I had a really good critique group--of four people--and it was a very awesome critique group. I think it taught me a lot about critiquing in general as well as improving my writing.

I haven't run into your specific problem yet--with the published author who now has no time to critique your work but expects you to drop everything to look at hers. (I think this has something to do with no published writer wanting MY opinion on anything, but there you go.) We'll see what Bo'sun does once she gets published--if she stops reading my work but keeps asking me for input. *LOL*

I'm sure everyone on the ship agrees that the Karma involved where she hasn't published again since pulling this stunt is pretty fitting!

Team PEPSI! AC, you're like the first one I know who is a fellow Pepsi. *LOL*

Hellion said...

Hi Mary!! I think that is very important to be said: you do have to think long and hard if a critique group is for you. While it is important (and eventually necessary) to have your work read by someone other than you, I don't believe it is necessary to show your early work to a group of people who--well--are set to show how much they know about writing by ripping your work to shreds. It is DEFINITELY about trust.

All that being said though, I’m totally one of those anti-critique people. Too many voices commenting on my manuscript and I lose track of the voice that counts the most – my own. If I let someone read my work, especially before I’m done with it, I have to give explicit instructions re: what I want feedback on. Most of the time, it’s “Is the voice okay?” or simply “Do you like it?” If there’s more detail than that, I get overwhelmed and start over-thinking every word.

And I love this advice: definitely when you're in your roughest draft form, if you're seeking feedback, be specific about what type of feedback you're looking for.

And there is definitely the problem of losing your voice when you have too much feedback too soon. Esp if you have people in the group who love to line-edit (I'm guilty of this) and re-write your stuff for you. *LOL* I've honestly tried to quit this because other writers don't seem to appreciate my changing their voice to mine. I wonder why that is? *LOL*

Your story of your author critique reminds me that I won a critique from Anna Campbell--and she was totally sweet! She definitely had her things she was dinging me on and questioning me about, but she had lots of positive to weigh it out. I didn't have to hide her critique in a drawer. *LOL*

Hellion said...

Q, you're very right. There is a lot of anger in groups of unpublished writers. I mean, we laugh a lot too, but there are some who are a little...frustrated and get very hung up about rules and 'what will sell', which is ironic since they usually don't have an agent or have sold anything.

Again, I don't want to get into the discussion about 'what will sell' versus what won't--there are definitely things you shouldn't do if you're going to write a romance, but being too strict about what won't can cause problems. :)

I love you, too, Q--and your writing (and your toasts!)--so next time I want to be critiqued, I'll just send it to you. *LOL*

Hellion said...

Though most of my feedback is as simple as “You’re briliant!” So I’m not sure I’m really helping.

This probably is why I sing your praises so often. *LOL* But you are pretty brilliant with a brainstorm too. And pointing out the weak areas without making me feel like getting into a fetal position and crying about it first.

Hellion said...

Donna, I think that is definitely the problem with critique groups if you don't use them correctly: you end up with a book by committee--and you clearly don't know which feedback to go with because you want to please everyone.

As Mary said above, you have to learn to trust you own voice--and if you haven't learned to do that prior to going to a critique group (and many new writers haven't--they're going to a critique group because they don't know their own voice yet or what they're doing)--you can almost set back your writing.

Confidence isn't something a lot of writers seem to have, at least in the beginning. And you send them to the wrong group and they'll have even less of it. *LOL*

Hellion said...

THIS is how tired I am. When I wrote this blog, I made the George W. joke as in "it's like saying George W. doesn't like Saddam"--and then proceeded to call her George W. the rest of the time. But then I got back to the joke and realized I didn't really like coming off as Saddam--and took out the metaphor and replaced it with Bo'sun and veggies...and the rest of you pirates totally went along with my aimless name calling as if suddenly calling this woman George W. was the most logical thing in the world.

This blog is a great example where a critique group probably would have been helpful...and where you probably shouldn't publish anything you've only read through twice. Late at night. On the same night you wrote it.

Bosun said...

Sorry, had to welcome a new victim...err...employee to the fold. I thought the George W. bit was to insinuate her staunch conservativism. LOL! Though then you would have called her Rush or Beckette.

Do I do that? I do love to brainstorm. But, as I say, that only works if both brainstormers know the premise and the set-up. I attended a workshop at a conference once that was group brainstorming with strangers. AWFUL! My friend had a set up with a couple on a roadtrip and the heroine was a lawyer. People were throwing out things like, "What if she's a waitress?!" "But she's a lawyer." "Does she have to be a lawyer?"

This sort of thing is NOT helpful. LOL! (And I know Chance would yell out "What if they were abducted by aliens??!!" LOL!)

Hellion said...

Well she was an odd looking conservative. *LOL* She looked like Wednesday Addams. But I guess they come in all outfits.

Do you do what? Remember, I'm operating on about 2 hours of sleep from last night (not counting the countless hours I've slept during the blizzard--those hours don't count now). You're going to have to speak slowly and repeatedly.

*LOL* I know you hate that sort of brainstorming, and mostly I agree with you, but occasionally from that sort of randomness, some glimmers of brilliance come out of it. You have to be flexible and consider some outside possibilities. It's why it's called brainstorming.

However, I agree that finding someone who thinks "similar" to you or is at least willing to play INSIDE the box while bringing new ideas to the fold is the best of both worlds. *LOL* It's easier than having to invent a new career for your heroine. *LOL*

And a waitress isn't the best career move. Esp with how much we prefer to have heroes who have powerful careers or at least money--the same sorta holds true of our heroines, doesn't it? Nowadays we prefer a heroine who is financially independent and doesn't need to be financially rescued by the hero. (But I'm totally riffing on Tiff's blog at the Bandits! *LOL*)

Bosun said...

Sorry, that was do I do this > ...pointing out the weak areas without making me feel like getting into a fetal position and crying about it first.

I hope I do that. This is where the "Do unto others..." policy should come into play. Don't say anything to a fellow writer you wouldn't want said to you.

2nd Chance said...

Not a fan of critique groups. I've done the CP thing and it's been helpful, but I don't swear by it. The Bo'sun is a wonderful reader for pointing out to me when I've totally gone off the chart and a reader would need an off-road GPS to follow where I've gone.

Bless her! Always brings me back to focus. It's like I'm using my telescope and getting all excited about the blurry things I'm seeing and making stuff up and she calmly reaches over and adjusts the focus.

Oh, yeah. There's the story!

My local RWA does a three page critique every meeting, but people say upfront what they are looking for. "Is my voice clear?" "Is this sexy?" "Did you believe that child is four?" (That was mine. I so seldom write children I need the help when I do to make sure I haven't created an adult in children's clothing.)

Most writers are so sure they need a group. Just as they are so sure they need to enter contests. Eh. My contest experiences were like your critique group, Hel.

I think, at some point, one simply must let go and believe in yourself... At this point, my CP is my agent and my editor. And I'll always fly by the Bo'sun, because I trust her.

Hellion said...

You do. I think the thing I appreciate most about your responses is that you explain WHY you don't like something. You don't just say, "I hate your hero and you and your little dog too! You'll never be published! You SUCK!"--which of course, has never happened to me. *clears throat* I mean, I don't inspire those kinds of violent reactions to my writing.

I do agree with the theory that it's better to invoke a passionate response than none at all because it means you have a distinctive voice--but if you can't explain WHY you don't like something in an analytical way, I don't think you should be taken too seriously. *LOL* It's okay to not like something, but if you can't give me feedback to help fix it, then you're just another person with an opinion.

Janga said...

I've belonged to half a dozen critique groups, and the only one that worked for me was a group of four. We were friends who respected one another's poetry before we formed the group, and we trusted one another enough to be honest and valued the work enough to be generous. It was an ideal combination.

I think with critique groups, as with everything else about the writing process, there are no one-size-fits-all rules. We have to find what works for us. I don't belong to a critique group now, and I have no plans to join one any time soon. I have a small group of trusted and valued friends that I use for troubleshooting when I have a specific question or concern, and I will use beta readers. But for the most part, I work alone. That works best for me now.

Hellion said...

*LOL* My contest experiences were like your critique group, Hel.

Don't worry, Chance, so are mine, but that's another blog. I've sworn off contests. *LOL* Critique partners, I can still do--but large groups, it would really depend on the people in the group. As Mary said: TRUST. And how many pirates do you know who trust other pirates?

Hellion said...

Janga, it worked really well for J.K. Rowling so I can't knock it! *LOL* And your poetry critique group sounds like its like the ideal writing group too. *LOL* Trust is a big key ingredient we've heard over and over, but RESPECT is another big one. If you don't respect certain people in your group, it's going to be nigh impossible to give feedback that doesn't reflect this. *LOL*

Bosun said...

Chance - I've only ever critted your synopses (plural of that anyone?) and by then you've done all the hard work. LOL! And you've gotten so much better at them, you don't even need me anymore. LOL!

On the rare occasion I do share my work (I'm like Janga, I prefer to work alone), I make sure to say exactly what I'm looking for. Chance volunteered to do a line-by-line crit for the current MS and I threatened her with death. LOL! I know what I can and can't handle. That would make me nuts.

Man, if I ever do get to work with an editor, should be interesting!

2nd Chance said...

Hel - One can trust pirates. To be pirates. That's sorta how I look at it with critique groups. We have one woman in my local RWA who is a line by line tweaker. I had her look at one of my books and decided I really like her, but not to look at my stuff.

Another is an erotica writer and I've read her stuff, but watching her in group...I'm just not ready to trust her to have anything useful to say to me.

Which is another thing. Some people are good with some people and not with others. I sorta hate it when a group of newbies start to do the critique stuff...they don't really know enough save about rules and I fear they will totally bland each other out.

Plus they are all vampire writers and just as I throw aliens in, they throw vampires in.

Oddly enough, I've never shown my agent any of my alien books... She's seen the 'throw a pirate in' books.

2nd Chance said...

if I ever do get to work with an editor

Puh-leeze! What is that?

When you work with an editor!

Positive thinking, bo'sun!

Bosun said...

Thank you for the virtual Gibbs slap, Chance. LOL! Yes, yes, WHEN. I'll work on that.

Donna said...

I think for many critiquers the temptation is to look at a manuscript and say, "I would have done it this way", rather than "how can I help this writer make THEIR work stronger?"

Years ago I experienced a friend who did that, and she even said point-blank, "this is how I would do it".

It kinda put me off critique partners. LOL Now I use a beta reader, because I need to know more "big picture" things rather than line-by-line stuff.

Bosun said...

Me too, Donna! I think when I first critted, I did that. I'd re-write entire paragraphs. And I still get tempted to do that, but now I realize what the heck I'm doing and stop myself. I will suggest combining sentences if something feels redundant, but how the writer does that (or if she does that) is totally up to her.

Sending the book to beta readers last week was hard but I felt like I'd gotten as far as I could without some outside input. I'm too close and I need readers with some distance to tell me what they see. Your feedback was exactly what I needed!

2nd Chance said...

We need a shorthand way of doing the Gibb's slap... Hmmmmm!

And it really should be a drink.

2nd Chance said...

Donna - Yup. The 'it's nice but I would have' is rampant. As is the newbie disease of jumping on every rule and not looking at the story en whole.

I do like the idea of a brainstorm session where everyone pushes aliens or vampires. But it sounds more like an improv writing group.

Give me a heroine attribute!
Give me a setting!
Give me an obstacle!


Might make for fun theater, not sure about a book... Though it sounds suspiciously how I pants. Ooops.

Donna said...

Terri, I'm glad you found it helpful. :)

Chance, the "it's nice but" is kinda like, "You're pretty but your mom dresses you funny." Which part are we supposed to focus on? LOL

Bosun said...

LMAO!!! I'm going to think of that everytime I get a crit now, Donna. (And my mother did dress me funny. Tie-die cordoroy overalls. Who does that to their child???)

Chance - If you have no story and you're totally stuck for ideas, then the improv brainstorming can do wonders. But not if you're stuck on chapter 20 and you need something that will go with what you have so far.

Hellion said...

Bo'sun, I find it hilarious that Chance offered a line by line edit; however, when offered the same thing by her own group, she also didn't find it particularly helpful. Interesting. *LOL*

Chance, can I say I'm completely fatigued by vampires. TIRED. I'm TIRED. I swear anytime I read a blurb and the word vampire shows up, I just put it back on the shelf. Nothing personal to the writer; I'm just tired of fangs.

Hellion said...

Donna, I like the big picture stuff too. Like, "The reason this part of your book doesn't work for me is it isn't plausible because of A, B, and C." And then you can look at that and figure out how to make those scenes stronger, so they are more plausible.

Scapegoat said...

I'm trying my hand with my first ever online critique group so I'll let you know how it goes - so far I feel like I'm overwhelmed with work since they want to exchange chapters every week. Finally convinced them to do every other week or so - otherwise I'd just be editing and not writing my own stuff.

What I'd really rather have is a group for general brainstorming and talking through the book. A group to bounce plot points and basic storyline ideas against. That seems like it would be way more helpful to me.

Hellion said...

As is the newbie disease of jumping on every rule and not looking at the story en whole.

This is true; however, newbies usually have a problem about not presenting a WHOLE manuscript for feedback. I'm the first one to admit I'd write 8 chapters, then submit the first 3 for contest or critique, get burnt out, then when the feedback returned, I'd be so demoralized--or I'd try to fix the beginning again, I'd never get anywhere. It's hard to share your whole picture to the group if you don't have a whole picture.

Hellion said...

What I’d really rather have is a group for general brainstorming and talking through the book. A group to bounce plot points and basic storyline ideas against. That seems like it would be way more helpful to me.

Well, that's what you have the pirates for.

We wouldn't be adverse to having you guest blog and you present this, and then we and our regulars can "blog-storm" with you to help you out. You know if you have a really big one to figure out...

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Bo'sun said: "This is where the “Do unto others…” policy should come into play. Don’t say anything to a fellow writer you wouldn’t want said to you."

This is how I approach all my critiques and I ask anyone reading my work to do the same. ;-)

I'm glad my critique was helpful for you, Bo'sun! I hope I prefaced it by saying, "this is one person's opinion on one particular day" because that is all any critique (even from a NYT best-seller!) is. Ditto on contests. Judges are subjective (not to mention clueless). EVERYTHING in this biz is subjective!

Another thing I like to say before critiques is, these are merely suggestions and things to think about when you revise this story. What you do with them is entirely up to YOU, the writer.


Scapegoat said...

Awww - thanks Hellion! :) I appreciate it.

Bosun said...

You did preface with that, AC. Not only did you teach me about writing, you taught me about critiqueing. And Hellie is reeping the benefits of that. LOL!

Scape - That is absolutely mandatory for me, to have that person off of whom I can bounce ideas. Can't count the times I've told Hellie or Chance "I think I need this but I'm sure how to do it." And they always come back with "What about this or that?"

Even if their suggestion isn't the exact thing I need, it flips a switch and helps me see the answer. It would be cool if we could help you out, so long as you give us enough to know a starting point.

Wouldn't want to suggest zombies if the fit wouldn't be quite right. LOL!

Hellion said...

Knowing us, we'd suggest zombies anyway. Zombies are very IT right now.

Donna said...

I wish I knew why zombies are popular. They aren't romantic, are they? They look like hospital leftovers or something. So maybe if you're a morgue attendant or a CSI-type you'd find that appealing. And they eat brains. Yecch. I can barely choke down meat that isn't cooked well done.

Color me perplexed.

Hellion said...

I think people have mistaken Rob Pattinson as a zombie in the first twilight movie, due to his poor acting and horrible makeup--and they think he's actually a zombie instead of a vampire. People are confused and now think zombies are hot.

Bosun said...

Zombies were big before Twilight came out. It's that Pride & Prejudice & Zombies thing. Which I heard is funny, but I don't want to read it. LOL!

Never seen the attraction of zombies. Not even in the Thriller days. (Though I taped Glee from last night and look forward to seeing their version.)

2nd Chance said...

I wouldn't really do a line by line edit...but I now how to do it after going through it with my editor a bazillion times. Who knew Word could do all that!?

Did I say I didn't want that at one point with critique groups? I don't remember. But... "Do I contradict myself, very well, I contradict myself. I am vast, I contain multitudes."

Perfectly capable of contradicting myself!

I never thought of the 'mother dresses you funny' idea. It's hard with that 'but' word... Wonder what is a better way to put it. "I like this. I'd love to see...this?"

I'm a total clumsy oaf when it comes to all of it and have come to the conclusion I should just nod and smile a lot.

Scape, we could do that!

Hellion said...

You are not allowed to quote Whitman on MY blog days. Any other day of the week, but not on Mondays. Mondays are bad enough as it is.

I do keep giggling at the "your mother dresses you funny."

Donna said...

Chance, you didn't say anything wrong -- I was just using your "it's nice but I would have" thing that you said is rampant -- it's exactly what happened with the critique from my friend. I just put it in different words. :)

2nd Chance said...

Man, now I want to go look up a bunch of Whitman quotes and just pepper them into everything I comment on today! ;-)

Face it, it is the most appropriate quote in the entire world for me!

Donna - Thanks. I still think I'm a clumsy boob.

Zombies...can't live with 'em, only have so many shotgun shells.

Hellion said...

Zombies…can’t live with ‘em, only have so many shotgun shells.

Very close to how I feel about men sometimes.

Bosun said...


I never would have known that was Whitman.

Donna said...

You mean Whitman chocolates, right? That's the only Whitman I can quote."

I remember saying to my male boss one time, "Men. Can't live with 'em. Can't bury 'em in the back yard." And he said, "I've got a backhoe." LOL

2nd Chance said...

The contradiction quote? Pure Whitman. The zombie quote, not so much! ;-)

Hellion said...

I'm pretty sure the man saying 'I have a "backhoe"' was the reason he needed to be buried in the backyard in the first place.

Sorry, I'm loopy now from lack of sleep. That was such a reach, I fell off the water tower.

Need to stay wakey-wakey and exercise-exercise!!

Bosun said...

I once had a bank president offer to take out my ex for $100. But that was a female. Something to the tune of "We can bury him where they'll never find him" might have been mentioned.

Might have been. I was sorely tempted...

Irisheyes said...

I think I'm too much of a people pleaser to be able to critique (thought of this after I offered last week, Ter :)). I'm just now learning how to do it constructively.

I have to review everything my daughter writes for her Accelerated Language Arts class. When I started to "help" her I had the urge to change whole sentences. Fortunately, she's opposite of her mother and had absolutely no problem telling me to "stop changing her words"! Now I work with her and actually do help her say what she wants to say only more succinctly and in fewer easier to understand words. It is a learned skill, though! I'm still in the process.

I do think the whole group thing would be hard for me to deal with. My book would definitely turn into a group project. I don't have the backbone needed to not change my "lawyer" to a "waitress"! LOL

It’s okay to not like something, but if you can’t give me feedback to help fix it, then you’re just another person with an opinion.

LOVE THIS! Very true - Keeping this in mind, I've been trying to pinpoint exactly what it is about the books I'm reading now that I either love or hate. I figured if I could actually verbalize that then it would help me figure out what's working and not working in my own writing.

Bosun said...

As we often hear, opinions are like assholes, everybody has one. Doesn't mean I need to get to know it.

That's a great idea, Irish. Though I'd have an easier time saying what I don't like about a book than what I do. If I like a book, then I'm not analyzing, I'm just enjoying. So it would take more work to pin that down.

Donna said...

I’m pretty sure the man saying ‘I have a “backhoe”‘ was the reason he needed to be buried in the backyard in the first place.

You're right. LOL His name was Richard, and I told him once, "Sometimes you're a Rich and sometimes you're a Dick." He just laughed and said, "Which one do you like best?"

Hellion said...

I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly what it is about the books I’m reading now that I either love or hate. I figured if I could actually verbalize that then it would help me figure out what’s working and not working in my own writing.

YES! This is exactly what you should do. The more you can analyze books you like (and don't like), the better you'll be at your own stuff and other's stuff.

Hellion said...

“Sometimes you’re a Rich and sometimes you’re a Dick.” He just laughed and said, “Which one do you like best?”

Dude, that's a tough call. It totally depends on which one you don't have enough of. And as for the two things in question, when can you have enough of either?

2nd Chance said...

Doesn't mean I need to get to know it.

Shamwow? Anyone else?

Donna said...

I probably shouldn't have capitalized Dick. Some days he was nice and lots of days he was the word that rhymes with dick.

Hellion said...

Why use the word that rhymes with dick when it's a synonym that means the same thing as dick? Just call a dick a dick.

Incidentally there is a professor in the dept who goes by "Dick" and I just call him by his title. I can't call him by his nickname. He's really the nicest man and I just can't do it. *LOL*

Donna said...

Okay, I'm back to doing line edits on my own WIP. It could get loud in here.

Bosun said...

I worked in radio with a morning guy named Dick. He got pissed one day and quit on the air, at which point we realized we became Dick-less.

Marnee said...

Ugh, the day got away from me. I started a message and now it's completely outdated.

I read through the comments and I love Donna's "She's pretty but her mom dresses her funny" comment. LOL!!

As for critiquing, I have a few gals I do beta reads with, my mentor--the Fabulous Caroline Linden--and then Hal and I have a close working relationship through the entire MS. Well, we did until baby making destroyed our brains this past year. LOL! I'd imagine once she gets back up and rolling this year, we'll get back in the saddle again.

What I love about working with Hal (besides the fact that Hal rocks and is awesome, just generally) is that both of us like to have someone read as we go because we need to know that we're not sucking the place up before we move on. Or, if something happens in the plot that throws off the whole groove, we can stop the other and say, "Um, I'm not sure about this." Especially because there have been times where we've thrown stuff in that might be a little controversial. Rapes, other men or women, tortures, a heroine who's a prostitute, etc.

Trust is important. I know Hal respects me as a person and as a writer, so when she tells me stuff I know where she's coming from. It's not a "you should stop writing, you suck" kind of thing, it's a "this is good but could be awesome if" kind of thing. I think every critiquer has to feel that way in a critique relationship. Because if you feel like the critiquer is patronizing you and thinks you really do suck, well, then critiques feel way more harsh than they should. And way less helpful.

Hellion said...

No worries, Marn, glad you were able to make time! :) And yes, Hal just rocks all the way around on a general day to day basis--not just when she critiques or gives birth. :)

What I love about working with Hal (besides the fact that Hal rocks and is awesome, just generally) is that both of us like to have someone read as we go because we need to know that we’re not sucking the place up before we move on.

This is me and Terri, I think. I tend to share all of a chapter...she shares more specific scens she's proud of, but mostly we do it to make sure we're not sucking. :)

Julie said...

Are you for critique groups or do you prefer critique partners?
That depends.
Why or why not?
Do you avoid critiquers altogether (a la J.K. Rowling)?
No. I like danger.
Do you have any nightmare critique experiences or really good ones?
Well ... that depends upon your take on things. If its honest & sincere & the person is Qualified to voice their opinion then even a bad critique is good. IMO
Easy for me to say. Since I've never had a bad critique.
Of course
When it comes to writing I'm not sure if I've ever had a good one either?!
Which makes me wonder ... If Marnee & Hal are doing it to make sure they’re not sucking. And Hellion & Terri are doing it to make sure they are not sucking ... And None of Them suck. BUT I’m Not doing it then
I su-uuuuh-WTH! Well. Thanks for being honest!

Julie said...

Great blog btw, Hellion. One last thought … don’t get caught up in the is this marketable. Concentrate on “is this its well crafted.” Anything can be marketable. Its all in how you present the product to the prospective buyer.
Pet Rocks, anyone?